THE WALKING DEAD 4.16 ‘A’
Episode Title: "A"
Writers: Scott M. Gimple & Angela Kang
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Previously on "The Walking Dead":
Because “The Walking Dead” is a ratings juggernaut, it routinely gets an early renewal. Season 5 is coming in October, so showrunner Scott Gimple and his team decided to give the show its first season finale cliffhanger…
And it’s a dud.
As a wrap up for this season’s Terminus arc, “A” completely underwhelms with a cliffhanger that lacks tension. Does anyone not expect Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the vast majority of his friends to make it out alive? We have to buy into the idea that their lives are in jeopardy for this cliffhanger to work. But nothing in Terminus is all that effective at scaring the audience. That could have gone differently if say, a certain missing character had been spotted while being cooked for the Terminus residents or if Rick and his remaining crew had seen something truly horrific.
Instead, we get an oddly subdued chase through the streets of Terminus and a mostly bloodless shootout. It’s a surprisingly unimaginative and frankly, boring way to close out the season. The unfortunate part is that the episode was working right up until the group arrived at Terminus.
From this point on, there are full spoilers ahead for “A,” so if you missed last night’s season finale of “The Walking Dead” then you should probably skip this review or else you’ll be the first course at Terminus.
I think we’re all assuming that the Terminus residents are cannibals who have lured their victims in with a promise of sanctuary and safety. There were a few visual hints that this might be the case. But to really sell that idea, someone from our group of characters had to be one of the primary victims and that just doesn’t happen. My money was on Beth (Emily Kinney) as the first victim, but her abduction isn’t even dealt with at all in this episode. As Daryl (Norman Reedus) puts it, Beth is just “gone.”
The strongest part of the episode comes early on when Rick, Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) are set upon by Joe (Jeff Kober) and his band of renegade a**holes. In Joe’s mind, Rick needs to pay for choking one of Joe’s men to death a few episodes ago. And to get maximum payback, their group will rape and kill Carl and Michonne before they kill Rick. When Daryl tries to intercede and offer himself up as a sacrifice, Joe orders his good ol’ boys to beat Daryl to death as well.
I loved Rick’s solution. In a desperate situation, Rick literally went for the throat and fatally bit Joe. He then brutally killed the man who attempted to rape Carl while Michonne and Daryl took out the rest of the men. It’s a far more savage side of Rick than we’ve seen before, but Joe and his gang were deserved what they got. It’s almost a shame that Joe was dispatched so quickly, as he was more memorable than any of the characters we met at Terminus.
Throughout the episode, we get a few flashbacks of Rick at the prison in happier times with Hershel (Scott Wilson), Carl, Beth and a few deceased members of the group. It was particularly good to see Wilson again, as Hershel has been missed. Hershel brought out the warmth in characters around him and he does so again here while encouraging Rick and Carl to take up farming roles at the prison. It’s an effective contrast with how far Rick and Carl have fallen since the prison was overrun.
The quasi-family dynamic between Rick, Carl and Michonne has also been a highlight of the season. Michonne is still closer to Carl than she is to Rick, but it’s easy to buy into them as a family trio. Carl and Michonne emotionally open up to each other and we learn more about the fate of Michonne’s child and her boyfriend. Although it’s something that most of us had already guessed.
The return of Daryl cements his status in Rick’s family as well. Rick openly calls Daryl his brother and it’s a moment that has been coming a long time. Think back to the first season, when Daryl was initially at odds with Rick for leaving Daryl’s brother, Merle behind. They’ve both come a long way since then. Their early morning scene together is actually moving.
During the early parts of the episode, there was a lot of tension because it seemed obvious that Terminus wasn’t the oasis that it was supposed to be. Rick and his group were rightfully suspicious, but their strategy was questionable at best. Rather than leaving Daryl or Michonne outside to rescue them if things go bad, Rick takes everyone with him and buries a bag of weapons… outside of Terminus. That means that Rick and his people have to break out of Terminus to get to his emergency backup weapons that they took from Joe’s men. I have to reiterate, that’s not a very good strategy.
The only moment that really worked inside of Terminus itself was the scene where Rick recognized the objects and clothing that belonged to his people from the prison. From there, the episode goes off the rails as Rick, Carl, Michonne and Daryl are herded towards a boxcar with their other friends. It just wasn’t very exciting and the episode didn’t deliver anything shocking or memorable in that sequence. It was such a subdued cliffhanger that this felt more like a midseason episode than a season finale.
It was good to see Rick and his group briefly reunited with Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). There was a moment where I thought that Daryl and Rick recognized Tara (Alanna Masterson) from the Governor’s assault on the prison. But if they did, they choose to say nothing when Glenn introduced Tara, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) as their new friends. Only Carol (Melissa McBride) and Tyreese (Chad Coleman) are unaccounted for as potential rescuers for the group. But unless there’s a retcon in the fifth season finale, Carol and Tyreese don’t even know that they’re walking into a trap.
This wasn’t a satisfying end to the season, despite Rick’s declaration that Terminus is screwing with the wrong people. The second half of season 4 attempted to build up the supporting characters with their own spotlight episodes; which were hit and miss. The Carol and Tyreese episode was harrowing and one of the series’ most haunting installments, while Daryl and Beth had one of the least engaging episodes ever. If this finale had managed to bring everyone together for a strong story, a lot of the fourth season’s flaws could have been overlooked.
Instead, the mistakes were amplified. And I’m less worried to see how Rick and company escape than I am about how Gimple and company plan to get “The Walking Dead” back on track.